Public Transit
August 8, 2011

Canada Line Undersized?

A story in the Globe today on expansion of Canada Line service:

The Canada Line is increasing the intensity of its service on Wednesday, with more trains and longer peak service hours – an escalation that raises questions about the future expansion of the $2-billion system.

PROTRANS BC, the contractor that operates the system, will add two more trains to the 14 two-car trains it currently runs at peak hours, a shift expected to reduce wait times. …

This week’s service increase means 16 of 20 train sets will be in use at any given time, but capacity can be increased by putting more trains out, (Ken Hardie) said.

“Demand is going to be the variable we’re going to watch very carefully because every indication is that ridership is going to continue to grow.”

My take:

Gordon Price, a six-term Vancouver city councillor who is now director of the City Program on urban issues at Simon Fraser University, said he was not surprised by the uplift in service.

“The question now is, ‘Has the system been undersized?’ Are the platforms too small? Are we not building transit to the scale we may need it in the future?’ ”

Mr. Price, a frequent user of the system, noted that the plan to increase frequency doesn’t open options, for example, for expanding platforms to accommodate longer trains.

“I don’t think it’s an imminent crisis by any means, but it will be fascinating and I would say, given five years, it will be really clear whether we undersized the system,” he said. “If those are the problems of success we’ve got, we’re really doing great. I like those problems.”

Perhaps PT readers have some thoughts  on this ….

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What, asks transportation consultant Todd Litman, has been the biggest vehicular breakthrough of recent decades?


Wheels on luggage.  Rolling suitcases.  The freedom to carry stuff while walking.

You can certainly see the effect on the Canada Line.  Those who might previously have opted for a taxi now save the cash and go by transit – because they don’t have to struggle to carry their luggage by hand.  No doubt, airline charges for checked luggage have had their impact too, along with the desire to pack everything into something carry-on size.

So now a class of people who would never have imagined themselves using transit have become converts.  They first get used to taking the train to the airport, then perhaps a connecting bus; they begin to walk longer distances than normal, and start to see the urban landscape as someone in a wheelchair might – a place that has to allow for seamless transitions.

In short, they change their view of how a city can work, and ultimately their place in it.

Not bad for a few pieces of round plastic.

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I’m a big fan of public art, particularly when I’m in transit – literally in the case of the Canada Line.

But honestly, sometimes …

You’ll spot these posters in the regular advertising slots, usually in groupings of four, each with a heading – like ‘Acquire.’

In case you can’t read the words at the bottom – and they’re (deliberately?) tough to make out – they say: (Acquire) “a brand new personality and join the miserables.”‘

How subtle.

Having pounded out all the irony, what’s the point?

Or of this:

Thanks, Joe, like we needed to know.

The piece in the background left – a bound rider on horse – is altogether more evocative and disturbing.  And yet more fitting.

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The Canada Line is undersized.  And maybe that’s a good thing.

As this Buzzer pic of Canada-Line construction at City Centre illustrates, there are more stairs than escalators.   Typically there are about two or three flights in a station – and a lot of people use them.  Mostly for going down, of course, but frequently to avoid the line at the escalator.

I notice a lot of people walking up the escalators too – sometimes even the line on the  right, where normally people stand for the trip.  Peer pressure, I’m guessing.

How much fitter are we as a people now that more us of are integrating a little extra effort into how we move around?  How much is this additional fitness worth?

Money was saved on cutting back the number of escalators on the Canada Line.  Are we saving even more in health-care costs because people are using the stairs instead?

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[The third of a series.  Start here.]

It may be one-and-a-half times as long as the route from Lansdowne Station, but Olympic organizers will recommend to spectators heading for the speed-skating oval to get off at Aberdeen and walk the 1.5 kilometres along the Richmond River Walk.

To the north, the best features of Richmond: the Fraser, the mountains, life along the river. 

To the south, the less appealing industrial landscape of the ALO Triangle along River Road.

The block from Cambie to Gilbert is possibly the longest in the Lower Mainland – an unbroken kilometre, without a sidewalk.

Not that the dyke itself was designed to handle a lot of people.  Part way along, the Richmond Yacht Club leaves only a strip of gravel as a half-hearted bypass.

But that’s changing.  Richmond has crews out working on what will obviously be a significant transformation of the river walk.

New  construction promises to grandly welcome the pedestrian – and, I’m assuming, a separate path for bikes. 

It’s a real turn-around for Richmond, where, even in its more recently developed parts, the gap between a true pedestrian- and transit-friendly cityscape and what’s on the ground is regrettably wide. 

For instance, take the route – only half a block – from the south side of Aberdeen Centre to the Canada Line station:

At point 2:

At point 1:

Obviously the city is waiting for redevelopment to resolve these embarrassments.  Here it will happen.  But the ALO Triangle?  Should another industrial zone be scrapped, even if in return we get a transit-oriented, pedestian-friendly, high-amenity neighbourhood?

That leads to one of the more critical planning issues – maybe the most difficult challenge of the upcoming regional plan.  More later.

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December 30, 2009

Another piece from the Globe, this time Ian Bailey’s evaluation of the Canada Line.  (I include my own quotes because (1) I hope they’re of interest to PT readers, and (2) it’s an easy way to keep track of quoted comments.)

Gordon Price, a six-term Vancouver city councillor who is now director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said things appear to be going “pretty damn well” for the system.

He said he has been struck by the number of passengers toting and pushing their luggage. Mr. Price said he was skeptical business travellers would be interested in taking a system that compelled them to take their luggage to and from the stations.

“What I hadn’t taken into account was the downsizing of luggage to carry-on and wheels. You can sure see it, pretty dramatic,” he said. “It brought a class of people, who normally didn’t take transit into their thinking and got them aboard … both literally and enthusiastically.”

Mr. Price has been using the line to get from his home in Vancouver’s West End to the downtown campus of SFU, taking a bus to the Vancouver-City Centre stop for the line.

“It’s kind of an enjoyable trip in the sense that I get to see that transit culture in action, which I kind of enjoy.”

He also uses it to get to Vancouver City Hall, the airport, and has used it to go for dim sum at the critically acclaimed Chinese restaurants in Richmond.

His one big criticism: No station in the midst of the shops, restaurants and other businesses of bustling Cambie Village.

“Particularly after the hardship they went through, it would have made sense,” he said.

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November 4, 2009

On the opening weekend of the Canada Line, the Brighouse station was jammed … with bikes.  But with nary a rack to be found.  The designers were evidently oblivious to the need.

It’s a curious omission, given that bikes extend the catchment area of a transit station by five kilometres or more. Yes, the Canada Line accommodates bicycles on its trains, but only a handful.  And as John Pucher documents in his latest reports on bike infrastructure, this is not a workable idea in the long run – inadequate for cyclists, inconvenient for other passengers. 

Instead, says Pucher, “In virtually every we reviewed, the supply of bike parking has been expanding, and many cities have been providing increasing amounts of sheltered parking, guarded parking, and state-of-the-art bike stations which provide a full range of services, including storage, rentla, repair, and showers.”

The latest – and perhaps most beautiful – bike station can be found at Union Station in Washington, D.C.:

More pics and comments on the DC station here.  (Thanks to David Godin.)

In a recent discussion on planning for the Cambie Corridor, the new Canada Line stations, particularly at King Edward and Marine, looked to be good opportunities to integrate bike stations into new development.  And there’s been discussion for some time for a station at Pacific Centre.  But, so far, nothing.

UPDATE: More info (and better pictures) here in the Architect’s Newspaper.

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Tessa, a regular PT reader, wonders:

I’ve just been noticing recently how far apart stations on the skytrain system are compared to other metro systems in Canada  … 

On the Expo Line, there’s one station every 1.45 kilometres; on the Millennium line there’s only one station every 1.56 kilometres.  There’s very few, basically, and most of them are in lower density areas. That would explain ridership in the 40,000’s.

On the Canada line, however, it’s one station every 1.2 kilometres. In fact, if YVR 3, Capstain Way and 57th Street Stations are built, that will become basically one station every kilometre, which is much more in line with other metros.  

Now for the comparison. Toronto has slightly more than one station every one kilometre for the whole network, while Montreal has one station every .96 kilometres.

I have to wonder how much ridership would be affected if we just built more stations along the existing route, and I also wonder where such stations might go (possibly between Edmunds and Royal Oak on Rumble? Between New West and 22nd Street? Maybe Nanaimo on the Millennium line? How about between Sapperton and Columbia at Richmond Street?).

Basically, I was wondering if I’m out to lunch on this idea, or if anyone else has noticed that there could be more stations on existing routes to better take advantage of existing infrastructure.

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My first impression?  Crowds.

I gave up trying to start at Waterfront Station, and took a trolley to Yaletown.  Crowded too, but pleasant:

Yaletown Station is a bit better than City Centre, but still has that affable blandness. 

 I confess, I liked the little folly that used to occupy this space in Curtis Plaza.  Its only function was to house the elevator for the parking garage below, but it fit.  Nonetheless, Yaletown Station may add a little life to this space if properly programmed.

It’s a three-minute ride to City Hall.  Finally, Vancouver’s civic centre will be more practically connected to its central business district.  [Side note: the Hall is where it is because of the civic politics of the 1930s, just after three municipalities amalgamated to create the Vancouver we know today.  It wouldn’t do to have the new City Hall located downtown (they even rejected an offer to buy the bankrupt Marine Building), and so it was built in what was then a Mt. Pleasant park.]

Anyway … I didn’t get off.  Decided to take the train to Bridgeport, where the action will be when TransLink funnels most of the southern buses into this station.   That meant 20 minutes in a tunnel. 

As the train emerged into the light, there was an audible gasp of relief.  Vancouverites have gotten used to a SkyTrain perspective, and don’t take well to riding underground.  Still, it’s now possible to traverse the width of the city in the time it takes to flip through a newspaper, and to do it standing up.  The ride is smooth, quiet and stable.  

Beyond Marine Drive, a chance to fill in some of the holes in my mental map, to get a sense of the industrial lands that are already being eyed for transformation.

As near as I could see, a lot of this land is filled with cars – not my definition of ‘industrial’.  And not likely to stay that way.

Same on the Richmond side:

Richmond has been aggressive in planning for more urbanity around its stations.  Bridgeport, in addition to being the only park-and-ride in the system, is anticipated to be a playground for the kind of adult activities already provided by the River Rock Casino.  The hotel-casino complex  is nice enough (they even have their own wetland!), but they clearly skimped on the connection between the hotel and the station:

The landscape around Bridgeport is a suburban wasteland:

But all that’s going to change.  Bridgeport is one of those places where, after a few years, you forget what used to be there, not that any of it was memorable in the first place.

No time to check out No. 3 Road (a place already evidence of the previous statement), so back on the train (after an hour wait) to City Hall Station.

This one is the best of the lot in Vancouver:

The wood, the curve, the tilt and the grade all work together to create a dynamic experience, visually and on foot, since the elevation of the platform is close to the grade of Broadway.  When new buildings to the east frame the station, it will all look even better.  And when the northeast corner of Cambie and Broadway has development equal to what has already occurred to the north, this will be an intersection worthy of the view.

Back on the train, no wait, to finish the trip at Waterfront – our great nexus of transportation modes (can anyone name a place that has a better mix?) – at the place, in 1887, where Vancouver literally got its start.

Not this place, of course (it’s the second CPR station) – but what a statement!  As they said of Pennslyvania Station in New York (before they tore it down), one enters the city as a king.   It may be that the Canada Line doesn’t connect seamlessly with the Expo Line – but if it means transferring by way of this great room, it’s more than worth the trouble.

The Canada Line is truly something to celebrate: only rarely does a city get to open such an elemental piece of infrastructure. 

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Lots of good coverage on the upcoming launch of the Canada Line, here in the Sun and the Globe and Mail.  But you didn’t have to wait until Monday to experience a piece of the line: the new bike bridge on the Fraser River crossing gots its grand opening yesterday.

Don Buchanan was there, and passed along a few pics:

Some familiar faces showed up.  For one: aggregator of all things cycling, Ron Richings:

Nice shirt, Ron. 

And Marian Town, ex of BEST and now with the Fraser Basin Council, along with ex-Councillor Peter Ladner:

We’ll be scoping out the Line on Monday afternoon.  But I’d appreciate readers who also experience this $2-billion transit investment to send along their first impressions.  Email me at, or comment to some of the blog posts I put up later in the day.  Pics welcome.

UPDATE: Pics from Ron Richings on Flickr

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